In 2009 I moved into a 200-square-foot cottage. The rent and location were awesome, but there was one problem. Half my stuff didn’t fit in the place.
So I got rid of it. Furniture, old clothes, books, shoes, art. And you know what? I haven’t missed any of it since. In fact, I wonder now why I had so much stuff in the first place.
I’m not a hardcore minimalist, but this small space I’ve lived in for four years has kept my life pretty simple. And this simpler life is much more aligned with my environmental values — small living means a smaller carbon footprint. You end up thinking carefully about what you buy or bring into your life when, for instance, acquiring a new pair of shoes means you have to get rid of a pair you already own in order to fit them in the closet.
If you feel like simplifying your own life, here’s a quick list of a few things I’ve learned to live without. Simplify starting here. But beware, it’s addictive. Pretty soon you’ll want to downsize to one of those tiny cabins. At least that’s where I’m headed.
That cheap medal you got for completing the half marathon two years ago, the Eiffel Tower shot glass someone brought you from Paris, that copy of your college graduation announcement that you’ve saved. You don’t need any of these things. Because guess what? Without them you’ll still remember what it felt like to train for that half marathon or to have graduated from college. None of those memories are going anywhere. Donate or recycle this stuff — you won’t miss it.
I’m not talking about those soft, perfectly fitted T-shirts you love and wear all the time. I’m talking about what’s down there in the bottom third of your dresser drawer. Those logo-boasting shirts from events or places, which were likely all given to you for free. You don’t need a T-shirt in order to prove you went to that conference, worked at that tech company, or volunteered at said event. Donate these or turn them into a craft project. Your dresser drawer is happiest when it contains only the clothes you wear on at least a monthly basis. The rest is clutter (or memorabilia, see above).
3) CDs and DVDs
This one’s a no-brainer. You don’t need these anymore. All the music and movies you want are on the internet now or can be stored on a hard drive. So upload them and make some space on your shelves. Bonus: most urban recycling centers accept CDs and DVDs in your blue bin.
I’m personally anti-Kindle because I believe real books have a longer life-span and most Kindles will end up in the trash. But if you own one, then this part might be even easier for you. There are three types of books worth keeping around longer than it takes you to get through the last page. First, books that have strong sentimental value (is there an inscription on the title page, does the book have a history?). Second, books that are signed by the author or are otherwise valuable to you (like my signed copy of The Virgin Suicides!). And lastly, books you plan to read soon or that you reread regularly (I reread Gary Snyder’s The Backcountry every year). That’s it guys. I suggest you sell the rest to your local used bookstore. Get store credit for them and go there or the library next time you need a book to devour.
5) Sporting equipment
If you haven’t gone camping in the last two years, get rid of the old tent in your garage. If you haven’t skied since 2002, sell your skis. I’m amazed at the range of sporting equipment people keep around, yet never use. Guess what guys? You can rent this stuff! And the models you will rent are likely newer and better than the old stuff you’ve kept around simply because you think you might go camping or skiing next year, or the year after, or maybe the year after that. Sell these things and put the money into a jar for the day you actually go to the slopes.
6) Bags and baggage
You only need one suitcase, one bag, and possibly a purse (or two). Even if you’re fashion-conscious. Spend some dough on these few things so you get quality stuff that will last you a while and look good. All those other bags and duffels you have crammed into each other under your bed will be happier at Goodwill. Nice bags that you just never use anymore can be sold to places like Buffalo Exchange. Done and done.
7) Kitchen gadgets
Okay, let’s head to the kitchen. First off, let me say that I love to cook. And my 50-square-foot kitchen doesn’t stop me. But it does stop me from owning a wedding-registry worth of gadgets and ice cream makers. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, you don’t need a microwave. It’ll make you a healthier person and force you to re-heat your leftovers on the stove, which tastes better anyway. Second, you can get by fine with just one great knife. Get a medium-sized quality one that costs way more than you ever imagined spending on a knife. It’ll last you forever and cut everything you need it to. Lastly, you don’t need any of those gadgets you haven’t used in the past two months. If you never use your food-processor because it’s too hard to set up and clean up, get rid of it. The best food is fresh and only requires your two hands and a few simple tools.
8) Things that are neither useful, nor beautiful
William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” So after getting rid of the things listed above, take a look around. Sit in your reading chair and observe your home. Do all the things hanging on your walls make you smile or think? Do the pieces of art you own make your heart sing?
I have a few strange items taking up space in my tiny apartment, like an old window hanging on my wall that I found in the Presidio, its white paint chipping to reveal a layer of blue underneath; on my desk there’s a piece of driftwood from a beach in Canada and a large chunk of obsidian from the Eastern Sierras. All of these things are beautiful and unique, and they remind me of what I love in the world.
Do not get rid of those things. If anything, make more space for them. Those are the objects that inspire. And without all that clutter, they get to shine for us that much more.